Led by a priest and a man burdened with a heavy, brown-stained oak cross, about 1,000 Spanish-speaking Washingtonians yesterday recreated Christ's march to Calvary and His death on the Cross.
The solemn procession along Connecticut Avenue included scores of women wearing black scarfs to mark their mourning for the death of Christ. As they marched, a drum beat a muffled cadence for the marchers.
Maricela Murray, a native of Panama who walked with her fellow Latins from the Washington Hilton Hotel to St. Matthew's Cathedral, said "La Procesion" is a Good Friday tradition in all Latin countries.
"Usually we begin in a church," she said as she walked, holding her child, Xiomara, in her arms. "And we march up the most important street in the town to the largest and most important church in town."
"It is such an event in Panama," she said, "that all the classes of people mix to join the parade. There are no snobs standing on the side watching."
The Rev. Ronald Carillo, a priest of St Matthew's parish and the man who led the marchers along Connecticut Avenue, through DuPont Circle and to the cathedral, said "La Procession" is a tradition only in Spanish-speaking countries.
"Even though Catholicism is universal, this is something that is peculiar to the Latin people," he said.
"In Spanish-speaking countries, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are holidays," he added. "They are deeply religious days. That is why it was no problem to get all these people here today."
The marchers carried the figure of Christ on the Cross, a figure of Mary dressed in black and another figure of Christ as He lay dead after He was taken from the Cross.
"They (the marchers) hope that in their imitation of Christ that they may be able to feel the passion of His death," said Father Carrillo. "And of course, there will come the joy of His resurrection, rebirth new life," he said.
Father Carrillo said the march, which has been held for six years, was organized by the Spanish Catholic Center, 3055 Mount Pleasant St. NW.
Father Carrillo said "La Procession" marks the one time during the year that Spanish-speaking people from around the Washington metropolitan area gather in large numbers in the city.
As "La Procession" reached St. Matthew's, the crowd stood on either side of the stone steps leading into the cathedral.
Then, as the cross was taken into the church along with the figures of Christ and Mary, the crowd sang songs for peace and waved white handerchiefs to symbolize their prayers for peace.
Gerardo Aquilar, a bus driver for Metro who lives in Alexandria, was in the crowd outside the church with his son, Randolph, seated on his shoulders.
"This is true to the tradition," Aquilar said when he was asked if Washington's version of "La Procesion" was comparable to the observance in his native Costa Rica.
"It feels good to see my people here," he added. "Every year I like to come and join in, to take part in a tradition that was so much a part of home," he said.
Elsewhere in the area, Christians marked Good Friday with both traditional services of meditation and music and more modern observances linking the suffering of contemporary victims to Christ's suffering and death.
In a Good Friday meditation at the Washington Cathedral, Dean Francis B. Syre Jr. reminded several hundred worshippers that the cathedral itself represents Christ's cross.
"Here, flung upon this rise of ground, at the heart of our nation's life, is that very Cross," he said.
Dozens of area churches held traditional noon-to-3-p.m. services based on the last words that Jesus spoke as He hung on the Cross.
For Roman Catholics, Good Friday traditionally is a time to walk the stations of the Cross, in commemoration of Christ's last hours on earth.
Some 200 evangelical Christian activists concluded a week of low-key demonstrations and witness against the use of torture for political purposes by walking a different kind of stations.
Beginning at the capitol, the group calling themselves Christians against Torture, included on their walk such places as the Department of State, offices of IT&T, the Justice Department and Sheridan Circle where former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier was killed recently. They finished their walk at the White House, where for an hour and a half they conducted "torture tableaus."